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Comment: Spine has no signs of creasing. Cover and pages are clean and not marred by notes or folds of any kind. Publisher is Harcourt Brace, 1985, 245 pages. Alternate cover art.
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Memories of a Catholic Girlhood Paperback – March 15, 1972

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (March 15, 1972)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156586509
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156586504
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


A perhaps misleadingly restrictive title for a folio of some eight autobiographical pieces dealing with Mary McCarthy's past when as the eldest of "poor Roy's children"- her parents died during the influenza epidemic of 1918- she shuttled between two sets of grandparents and three religions- Catholic, Protestant and Jewish. Under the monitory supervision of the Catholic McCarthys in Minneapolis, the four young ones were turned over to a blood relative, Aunt Margaret- a "well-aged quince of 45" whose regimen of prunes and parsnips, no toys or books was supplemented by the capricious brutality of her husband Myers. Removed by "the Protestants", her grandfather Preston and his Jewish wife, to Scattle, there followed a period of quieter discipline in a Catholic convent where she lost her faith; the transfer to an Episcopalian boarding school and infractions of another nature; a summer in Montana and her introduction to whisky under the tutelage of a married druggist; and the pieces conclude with an unforgettable portrait of her grandmother Augusta Morgenstern and the elaborate ritual of her days.... Time has not dulled the sharpness of the image and incident here, and the portraiture has an exceptional definition to which the polished prose- there is never a flubbed phrase- is certainly contributory. There is also a warmth, and an often gamine charm, absent from her fiction, which may attract others beyond her anticipated audience (although Catholic readers have already been aroused on the initial publication of these pieces.)  (Kirkus Reviews)

About the Author

MARY MCCARTHY (1912-1989) was a short-story writer, bestselling novelist, essayist, and critic. She was the author of The Stones of Florence and Birds of America, among other books.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By sweetmolly on September 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
As an off-again, on-again admirer of Mary McCarthy, I sometimes wondered if she ever had a childhood or just appeared full-blown, rapier-witted and sword at her side. While never doubting her talent, reading her was frequently as pleasant as drinking a glass of vitriol.
Mary indeed had a childhood, and unusual it was. I am sure it marked her forever to lose both her parents within a week of one another to influenza at age six. To add to the horror, the family was traveling by train to start a new life in Minnesota. Mary, herself, was deathly ill with the virus, and that colored her impressions of the tragic event.
Some reviewers and the book jacket describe her childhood as "Dickensonian," I presume referring to Oliver Twist. I disagree, as Mary came from a well-to-do family that didn't lack for the material things of life. She lived with an aunt and uncle from her 6th to 11th year and was tremendously unhappy, claiming she didn't have enough to eat, was dressed in hand-me-downs and frequently beaten. Yet all photos of this time depict a well-dressed, well-fed child. At age 11, she was taken to live with her benevolent, wealthy grandparents in Seattle. From that time on, she received the kindest attention and was expensively educated. My doubts about those five early years are because Ms. McCarthy all her life was an implacable, unforgiving enemy when her feelings were aroused.
The memoir is beautifully written with sharp and fascinating characterizations of her family. She appends each chapter with an epilogue taking an adult's eye-view of her childhood impressions. It is most effective. You are constantly reaffirming her brilliance. Well worth reading.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer S. Bachman on December 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
Written long before the recent memoir craze, this book stands as one of the best of that genre. McCarthy looks back on an almost Dickensian childhood with wit and discernment. Perhaps most striking is the lack of defensiveness; writing of abuse suffered at the hands of a misguided great aunt and her sadistic husband, she traces the way it shaped her character but never uses it as an excuse. Nor is she more sparing of herself than of her relatives: she not only gives us a portrait of a realistically foolish, self-conscious adolescent Mary--recounting the sorts of youthful episodes many of us continue to blush over as we remember them in adulthood--but in notes appended to each chapter she deconstructs her own memories, noting where she has given in to the urge to dramatize or where her recollections conflict with those of others who were present. A wonderfully honest, bracing book, refreshing in its lack of grievance and its unostentatious, unsentimental good humor.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have always held a fascination for people who grew up with a real sense of religion that later fell away from the faith. I bought this book expecting something akin to the movies that are so prevalent nowadays about the catholic schoolboys smoking and getting caught by the nuns and hit with a ruler across the wrists. Instead, I was greeted with an amazing tale of Mary and her sad loss of her parents, pitiful existence with her aunt and uncle and twisted "saving" by her West Coast relatives.
The childhood she had was less than perfect, I agree, but the fact that she survived it and lived to create such a wonderful literary account of it almost makes me appreciative of her having to go through it. The chapter on her grandmother is so reminiscent of my own mother that I had to laugh out loud at times.
Well worth the read and the struggle through the many latin references and unfamiliar religious practices.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Lyn Bann on May 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
In this memoir Mary McCarthy's childhood appears to be marked by two contradictory principles: orphanhood and board study at a Catholic convent. Convent life appears to her as a revelation of the aristocratic principle in life. The Catholic nuncs she encounters are dazzling intellectuals, preoccupied by themes such as purification through sin and the fate of the romantics. The identification of the nuns with the romantics is stressed, and is based on their shared antimodern nonconformity, the spirit of loss and failure flickering at the side of the happy, straight road of Protestant civics. The exact opposite of the romance of Catholicism lies in the prototype exemplified by Uncle Myers, the "rootless municipalized man who finds his plasures in the handouts or overflow of an industrial civilization." The purposeless emptiness of modern municipal life is contrasted with the beautiful heroics of medieval European history.

Yet from the pretty orderliness among the girls at the convent isnot only derived romance, but at times also misunderstanding. When Mary rehearses a "loss of faith" drama to gain popularity, her faked doubts lead to a real breach of faith: "Why can't the universe be self-sufficient?" In order not to disturb the expectations of the nuns, she will be forced to fake her period. The limits between the real and the pretended, both spiritual and organic, seem troublesome inside the convent.

Mary McCarthy's love of Latin language and culture came about at college, where she represented the opposing forces of law and anarchy in the classic play "Marcus Tullius" as a reflection of her own mixed heritage.
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